Kogane Traces

[Secret Songs ; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: post-rock, new-age, bubblegum chamber pop
Others: The Sea And Cake, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Ryan Hemsworth

Excuse me if I’m too eager to wax nostalgic here. Kogane’s Traces EP is the sort of work that backs you into a corner, forcing you to dip your pen into the dregs of sentiment. For a producer whose sound owes much to post-rock, it’s risky territory to steer into. It’s the crescendo-leaning, heartstrings-tugging delivery of the genre’s third (and final) major wave that can resemble the vibe of a for-profit university commercial. Instrumental rock records this pretty can too easily simulate emotional catharsis without establishing footing in the flesh — even life’s most intense moments can fall short of a climactic burst of reverb and fuzz.

On his debut effort, the Tokyo-based producer ventures far beyond these mere constructions, joining late post-rock’s polish and immediacy with the jazz inflections and introspection of the early stuff. Traces is an ouroboros that feasts on Sam Prekop’s discography, taking particular interest on his penchant for balmy atmosphere and indietronica. You won’t bump this EP and feel the need to tweet “my life a movie,” but it just might make your morning commute feel like a charming illustration in a children’s book, bus dissolving into the watercolor cityscape.

“Alberta,” Traces’s second offering, is the EP’s hinge, the point that establishes an evocative setting that just eludes your grasp. For me, the shower of melodic percussion and crisp ambient production elicits late-aughts memories of playing MySims Kingdom, a relatively undemanding Wii game that revolved around crafting lunar colonies and irrigation systems from thin air. One could get lost in the act of creation, deliberating over the possible colors and textures of a cement block, suspended tentatively in a cloud of magic. That same effortless, generative energy courses through the track as shivery vibraphone notes bloom from acoustic guitar woven almost imperceptibly into the mix.

The remainder of the EP, which is punchier and urgent, can’t quite match the spectacle of “Alberta,” but it still has its moments. Opener “Bicycles” hits like a top-shelf Penguin Cafe Orchestra cut, propelled by airy harmonium and fluttering beats. The slowcore portion of “Max” is also a highlight that finds Kogane at his most Prekop-ian.

Traces’s cover art, beautifully illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi, feels boundless enough to be a track of its own; it’s a shame that streaming makes it hard to inspect it closely while listening. In a cosmic twist, it calls back to the debut release by crescendo-core mainstays Explosions in the Sky, shrinking the presence of humanity against an imposing arctic landscape.

Like nighthawks in a Hopper painting, the unseen bus riders in Kiuchi’s piece are incidental to their surroundings. Are we blips really worthy of our own soundtracks? Earbuds inserted, we defy nature, shirking the ambient buzz of insects for curated theme music.

The peaks of waveforms become mountain ranges unto themselves.

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